Jennifer Rushworth: Bringing Proust’s Imaginary Music to Life

Many of you will doubtless have heard of Marcel Proust and his monumental masterpiece À la recherche du temps perdu (often translated as In Search of Lost Time or much more loosely as Remembrance of Things Past). A substantial part of the novel is given over to an imaginary sonata by the fictional composer Vinteuil, which figures prominently in the relationship between the central characters Swann and Odette. Various attempts have been made in film versions to reconstruct what the sonata might have sounded like, but the piece has never before been imagined as a standalone composition, without a surrounding cinema or stage adaptation. Moreover, the ways in which composers of such a sonata might read the novel differently from literary critics have yet to be fully investigated.

This week on The Provocateur I talk to Jennifer Rushworth, a Junior Research Fellow in Modern Languages at the University of Oxford, about her groundbreaking project bringing together undergraduate translators, composers and musicians at the university. One group of students were given extracts from the novel to translate into English, before feeding the results to a second group of students who used the translations as inspirations for new work. I discuss with Jennifer the challenges and rewards of this highly interdisciplinary exercise. Among other things, we explore issues of French-English translation, the specificity of the Anglophone context and what this research might suggest more generally about the relationship between music and literature in Proust.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

To learn more about the project, visit proustandmusic.wordpress.com, which hopefully will be updated soon with recordings of the finished pieces!

Further Reading:

Coeuroy, A. (1923) ‘La musique dans l’œuvre de Marcel Proust’, Revue musicale 3, pp. 193-212. Reprinted in Coeuroy, A. (1938) Musique et littérature. Paris: Gallimard.

Costil, P. (1958) ‘La Construction musicale de la Recherche du temps perdu (I)’, Bulletin de la Société des Amis de Marcel Proust et des Amis de Combray 8, pp. 469-489.

____ (1959) ‘La Construction musicale de la Recherche du temps perdu (II)’, Bulletin de la Société des Amis de Marcel Proust et des Amis de Combray 9, pp. 83-110.

Dayan, P. (2006) ‘How Music Enables Proust to Write Paradise Lost’, in Music Writing Literature: from Sand via Debussy to Derrida. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Goodkin, R. E. (1991) ‘Proust and Wagner: The Climb to the Octave Above, or, the Scale of Love (and Death)’, in Around Proust. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Labarthe, P. (2001) ‘Vinteuil ou le paradoxe de l’individuel en art’, Revue d’Histoire littéraire de la France 101(1), pp. 105-122.

Kaltenecker, M. (2010) ‘L’Écoute selon Proust’, in L’Oreille divisée: Les discours sur l’écoute musicale au XVIIIe et XIXe siecles. Paris: Editions MF.

Nattiez, J-J. (1989) Proust as Musician, trans. D. Puffett. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Newark, C. and I. Wassenaar (1997) ‘Proust and Music: The Anxiety of Competence’, Cambridge Opera Journal 9(2), pp. 163-183.

Piroue, G. (1960) Proust et la musique du devenir. Paris: Editions Denoël.

Ross, A. (2009) ‘Imaginary Concerts‘, The New Yorker, 24 August.

Rushworth, J. (2014) ‘The Textuality of Music in Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu‘, Romance Studies 32(2), pp. 75-87.

This episode is dedicated to the memory of Benjamin Frederick Pedley (1991-2017).

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